Albert Maasland, Chief Executive Officer at Crown Agents Bank
The current COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented crisis of our times. As with many global disasters, emerging and frontier markets are likely to feel a devastating impact. The Institute of International Finance has already reported the largest capital outflow from emerging markets ever recorded. The extent of the effect is being debated, but efforts to reduce the impact must become an absolute priority.
One of the most important things we can do in the long term is remember how far these regions have come in the last few years and remind international players of their enormous potential. In 2019, technology startups that operate on the continent received a total of $1.3 billion in funding. Investors and financial services players alike have observed the considerable growth and adoption of fintech in Africa. Fintech is one sector that could show resilience during this crisis, as online services become essential and the use of cash is discouraged worldwide. Africa has seen its fintech industry develop and thrive of late and this must not be overlooked as we look to the future.
The fintech ‘hub’bub
According to the GSMA, Sub-Saharan Africa is still the “enduring epicenter of mobile money”. The region accounted for over 60% of the $690 billion that was transacted via mobile money in 2019 and has more than 150 million more registered accounts than the next highest region, South Asia.
The market conditions that make Sub-Saharan Africa so ripe for the adoption of mobile money range from the population being predominantly young and tech-savvy to an established history of not having sufficient financial infrastructure. Mobile wallets have brought better security and the ability to make international payments to the unbanked. Investors noticed.
Fintech became Africa’s best funded startup sector in 2019 as venture capital aimed to support and capitalise on the huge potential for growth. Visa, Worldpay and Mastercard are among those global financial players who have entered into collaborations with African fintech ventures, such as B2B payments company Flutterwave.
While Kenya saw the birth of M-Pesa, more countries are embracing fintech and becoming hubs on the continent. Nigeria saw the highest number of startup deals last year and startup investment grew nearly five fold compared to 2018.
E-commerce, financial products for SMEs and payments technology are among the areas receiving funding. As entrepreneurialism receives more support and international attention in Africa, the gaps in financial systems are being plugged.
Changing the definition
With all these developments and emerging services, traditional measurements of financial inclusion have needed to adapt. Financial inclusion metrics have previously been based on the number of adults with a bank account at a financial institution. According to the Global Findex from the World Bank, the share of adults with an account at a financial institution rose by 4 percentage points from 2014-2017, while those with a mobile money account nearly doubled—to 21%.
Mobile money accounts or mobile wallets are now a fundamental part of financial services in Africa. For investors and entrepreneurs, that translates to more information about the market, behavioural data about consumers and e-commerce possibilities. In essence, it amounts to opportunity.
These benefits also become apparent in international aid and charity work. It’s easier than ever for international development organisations to get funds directly to their aid workers and to individuals who need them safely. Remittances last year, which reached $550 billion, were three times that of official global aid volumes. 80% of these transactions were made to emerging markets, and the minutes and pennies saved in each transaction through the efficiency of mobile payments are invaluable to those most in need of these funds.
As financial inclusion makes great strides and financial technology has transformed the African startup landscape, we must not lose this progress. We must continue to value the benefits in bringing those excluded into the financial ecosystem and the unique opportunities presented in areas like Sub-Saharan Africa.
We’ve seen what real innovation looks like in the tangible changes fintech has had in Africa: doing things differently and creatively to improve the status quo. Investors should continue to watch and support these markets, and the financial services industry more widely should take heed of the lessons learned in the markets we too often believe to be behind us.
In the coming months, the importance of digital services and fintech in particular will become more palpable. Nigeria’s tech scene is already beginning to contribute to efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Africa was poised for an impressive decade and we must do what we can to remember and realise the potential of the world’s youngest population.
TIPS FOR BUSINESS EXPANSION
Alan Sutherland, CEO of Kind Consumer
Every successful business had a beginning. Its founders usually looked for ways to gradually expand, attract new customers and increase monthly revenue. From the outside looking in that type of success often feels as though it requires some form of magic or hidden formula.
So how do you drive success? There are two which are fundamental to success. On first glance they may seem obvious, but they are often neglected.
Do you have a strong team?
No matter how great your business or idea you will not drive it to its full potential without a strong team behind you.
The process of recruiting and finding the best talent is never easy. You must over-invest time in the process as it is a fundamental investment and future growth driver. Two principles I have learned over the years when looking at recruitment are, to surround yourself with people who are better than you and do not be afraid to recruit someone who could make you redundant.
If you can achieve these, the benefits are clear. Better business results, stronger talent pool, and with capability future fit plus built-in succession planning.
Have you created a road map?
Strategy should not be complicated, as it is the set of choices you make to help you deliver your goals. It is your roadmap.
In thirty plus years of corporate life I have reviewed many. Countless textbooks have also been written on the subject, but there are some basic principles that I firmly believe work best. Namely, the vision should be clear, motivating, and understood by all in the organisation. In addition, it’s important to remember ‘less is more’. Too often strategy papers can be voluminous and complex. The best strategy work I have seen is on one piece of paper with clear, simple articulation of the choices you will do and equally what you will not do. It is very empowering to tell a team what you are not going to do.
Have you established a core market?
In any business, the “core” needs to be healthy before you divert any significant level of resource to expansion, there are thousands of examples where enthusiasm to grow has caused companies to fail.
As you evaluate expansion, having an array of ideas and opinions needs to be balanced with a clear brand that consumers feel they relate to. Whilst adding new products or services is an organic part of company growth it needs to be tempered, so you do not drift too far from your core market.
Therefore, before ploughing resources into new markets, you do need to ensure that new product and services will be of value to existing (or new) customers. You may need to ask some critical and challenging questions such as, is there a clear need for this? Is it marketable? Does it sit within the brand equity? How much will consumers pay for it?
If you conclude that the demand is there, only then should you move onto executing that new idea because it will require a significant amount of investment of time, resources, and money. If the market entry cost is potentially high, you should also evaluate a test & learn approach by launching in a limited way and, if early traction is good, then expand.
Once you have revised your existing offering, you need to engage with these new consumers to increase brand recognition. If your business is not online, add this to your to-do-list because in today’s era, convenience is key.
A website is the shop window to your brand and, done well, can allow you to build up a direct one-on-one relationship with your customers. If it was already an important criterion before, the impact of Covid-19 will make it indispensable.
With social media and the abundance of mobile technology, it is not difficult nor expensive to drive traffic to your site, so you need to ensure the site is engaging, easy to navigate, informative with a call to action to purchase. Loyal customers who return to your site are worth their weight in gold!
Do you have a healthy working capital?
Finally, a healthy working capital is essential not just for growth but for the day-to-day operations of running a business. Even as you start to see your business develop, you must keep a scarcity mindset with cash and make sure you have some reserves for when something goes wrong. This has caused thousands of start-ups to fail as they hit unexpected turbulence and had no contingency in place.
In today’s global economy, there is a lot of uncertainty so there has never been a more important time to maximise liquidity to meet short term obligations and avoid going bust. Not to mention, flexibility is key when a business is looking to expand and without enough working capital a business can lose this flexibility.
BITCOIN COMES OF AGE
Katharine Wooller, Managing Director, UK and Eire, Dacxi
The Bitcoin halving event, which occurred on the 11th May, has been a watershed moment for the industry. It has been a deafening theme for crypto narrative in recent months, and more recently has caught the eye of professional investors and conventional media alike, with some predicting it will be the catalyst for a substantial boom. It appears bitcoin, finally, has a hard-won place in the mainstream.
Halving: In a nutshell
Bitcoin has a key feature; there are a fixed amount available, and, crucially it has a pre-programmed supply reduction built in. The miners, who maintain the bitcoin network, validate transactions and add them to the blockchain when they are verified. They do this at considerable electrical and computing cost and thus are paid in bitcoin. Periodically, the reward for doing so halves. In the past this supply reduction, which previously occurred in 2012 and 2016, has coincided with a strong run-up in its price.
Bitcoin has now been in existence more than ten years and has survived the doubters, the scammers, the hackers, government attempts to quash it, and along the way it has given rise to new innovations using the blockchain technology that underpins it. To overstate this amazing “survive and thrive feat” as well as the innovation it represents would be difficult. Bitcoin, conceptually, has exceeded expectations. Alas the 5,000+ crypto currencies that have sprung up alongside it include the good, the bad, and so very ugly. Nearly all of these should fall away as Bitcoin dominates; at time of writing it is 67% of daily traded volumes. Understandably, there is a very short list of 3 what we call blue-chip coins (LTC, BTC, ETH) that the institutional investors have shown interest in.
Solving some our largest problems
There is a clear appeal of digital currencies to the cashless internet economy based, including 24/7 price transparency that is available, cross border usage, divisibility to many decimal places, as well as third party oversight and controls. Bitcoin has been on a roller coaster ride over the last two years and has held its value throughout the current dramas and even increased in value as governments have stimulated their economies on a massive scale via printing cash endlessly to avert a market meltdown. This is likely to create a massive inflationary environment into the future and sets the stage for Bitcoin to make its next move upwards after stocks and real estate prepare to reset valuations and attractiveness.
A new gold?
A lot of the dialogue around bitcoin talks about an improved version of gold, as a medium to convey value. Improved by virtue of the technology being quicker, and cheaper to both store and move. Indeed, a recent transaction of $1.1bn worth of bitcoin, by bitfinex, cost $84. Unsurprisingly this has caught the imagination of the financial infrastructure industry. Some market commentators postulate a 10x increase in prices in the next 12 months, based on a few % of the global appetite for gold switching to crypto, with bitcoin being the heir apparent.
For the industry as a whole, it is great news that bitcoin is now demonstrably decoupled from traditional markets. It is apparent that the price of Bitcoin is outside the traditional assets’ ecosystem, and the market is determined by a new set of criteria. Bitcoin now has the crucial “social proof” that it cannot be altered by external forces, no matter how powerful, bringing much joy to the libertarians and retail investors alike. Indeed, google searches for ‘bitcoin halving’ hit an all-time high in the late April, suggesting firm interest from newbies. Further, the quality of exchanges available to both retail and institutional investors has improved substantially in recent years, providing a much-needed ease of entry into the market.
Indeed, leviathan investors, such as Paul Tudor Jones, coming out in praise of bitcoin, as a viable hedge against inflation, saw bitcoin enter – unexpectedly – stage left to a much broader financial audience. Bitcoin is viewed as what gold was in the 1970s, thus driving increasing interest from his fellow baby boomer cohort. Indeed, Dacxi, a digital exchange focusing on educating retail investors, saw some of its busiest weeks in the run up to halving. The addition of global pandemic and imminent worldwide recession has been the perfect storm for the world to crave safe new assets. Crypto is firmly out of the niche and into the zeitgeist.
In my opinion, crypto has reached critical mass in terms of adoption. There’s no going back. I was delighted to wake up in London on the 12th May and see the BBC reporting on halving – it doesn’t get much more mainstream than that!
As digital currencies become the increasingly dominant technology, anyone with an interest in markets and investing would be well placed to educate themselves on this seemingly unstoppable asset class. With the recent momentum gained from the halving, crypto is likely to be a broader theme of daily life for decades to come.
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